By Trevor Crawley
Though 2016 has come and gone, there are still notable things to reflect on for Kootenay-East MLA Bill Bennett.
The longtime provincial representative for the region was busy serving in cabinet as the Minster of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review, but after 16 years of service, announced his retirement last June.
However, he is still on the job until the provincial election in May.
“As an MLA sometimes the most satisfying things are very important to one or two people but they go unreported because it isn’t really news for anyone else,” said Bennett. “I am referring to when we can help someone struggling with the health system, trying to access a special medication or find a long term residential care bed for Dad or Mom; sometimes it is acting as the go-between big government and a constituent who is frustrated with the bureaucracy.
“For me over my 16 years, that work, the work that my wonderful constituency staff often do on my behalf, is very rewarding and it is important for an MLA to do that work well.”
For Bennett, there are many things over the last 12 months that he is proud to have tackled and addressed, ranging from the completion of the new Intensive Care Unit at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital (EKRH), to increased funding of the College of the Rockies, to mine expansion approvals at Elkview mine and resolving backcountry land access issues in the Sand/Lime Creek areas.
The $20 million six-bed ICU was completed last spring and has been operational since then. The new ICU was built as an additional wing to the existing hospital building, while the entire EKRH also received an electrical upgrade. Later in the summer, Health Minister Terry Lake also announced that the facility would be receiving a permanent MRI.
“The ICU and MRI are the last really big items needed to complete a full service regional hospital for a region our size,” said Bennett. “Not that there aren’t many other assets we need, but these are the last big items according to medical staff at EKRH.”
It was announced in 2017, the College of the Rockies will be building a $10 million trades training facility — a plan that has been in the works for roughly four years.
Bennett is a frequent presence at the college to announce government funding grants, usually for trades equipment and trades training programs.
“Seems like I am up to the college every six months with an announcement,” Bennett said. “This has been a labour of love for me just like the regional hospital. We want our kids to have a choice of staying home to get post secondary education and trades training and now there are lots more options for them.”
Bennett acknowledged the government moved too quickly when it announced closures to the Sand/Lime Creek areas and was happy to get the decision reversed after complaints that residents of Jaffray and the surrounding area felt there wasn’t enough public consultation.
“Nothing riles up many people in the East Kootenay more than government telling them where they can’t go in the backcountry,” Bennett said. “It’s a lesson I learned early on and since I quad and hunt and fish myself, I feel these access issues too. In this case, government inadvertently dropped the ball on consultation and I was able to get the decision reversed so that people can go berry picking again next fall.”
On a wider provincial stage, Bennett is excited about the progress on the roughly $9 billion Site C dam project, which is under his jurisdiction as Energy and Mines minister. Other projects Bennett had a hand in include the Woodfibre LNG project — an LNG processing and export facility at a former pulp mill site near Squamish — as well as the construction approval of two new mines, Brucejack and Silvertip, in the northwestern region of the province.
“These four projects will inject billions into our provincial economy and every British Columbian will benefit from these projects through jobs, business contracts and tax revenues that we use to pay for social services,” said Bennett. “I got into politics to get stuff done, not to be somebody. Being involved in projects like these ones is immensely satisfying as I walk off into the sunset in April.”
Bennett also lauded the federal approval of the Kinder Morgan Transmountain pipeline and the province’s decision to grant an environmental certificate.
“This project means billions of tax revenues to help pay for the things we all want from government and thousands of jobs and small business spin-offs,” he said. “It is also the right thing for Canada. Having to sell our oil at a discounted price to the US because we only have them as a customer is not in Canada’s best interests.”